July 8, 2009

The New Acropolis Museum is a new reason to visit Athens

Posted at 12:57 pm in Elgin Marbles, New Acropolis Museum

The New Acropolis Museum has already created a huge amount of interest since its opening, giving a new reason for tourists to visit (or re-visit) Athens.

Daily Mail

Greek holidays: Inside Athens’s stunning new Acropolis museum
By Joanna Tweedy
Last updated at 12:52 PM on 06th July 2009

Athenians have grown old waiting for the city’s new Acropolis Museum. From the first seeds of suggestion in 1976, it has taken more than three decades for this monolithic vision of glass and steel to arise. A few grey hairs won’t bother the Greek capital’s five million inhabitants but the fact that the Elgin Marbles – which they had hoped would be in the museum – remain 2,000 miles away in London rankles far more.
Acropolis Museum, Athens

The spaceship has landed: The new Acropolis Museum looks a little futuristic, but does a fine job of showcasing the past

For almost 2,500 years, the Acropolis has been a touchstone for the country’s fortune. Its construction in the 5th Century BC sparked a gilded age of creativity. Until now, thousands of artefacts from the gargantuan Parthenon and the surrounding buildings that make up the Acropolis site – the Erechtheum, Temple of Athena Nike and Propylaea – have been sold short in small, cramped museums or hidden away completely.

Officially opened on June 20, the new museum lies at the foot of the Acropolis. Some 10,000 visitors are expected daily and it costs a low introductory price of €1 (85p) to get in this year, rising to €5 (£4.30) in 2010.

The £111million project has been dogged by problems, including the discovery of a mishmash of ancient architecture buried underfoot. Persuading modern residents to abandon their homes, enticed by untold sums, proved far easier than excavating the 4th to 7th Century AD neighbourhood below. The museum also had to be built to withstand earthquakes.

Debate on its exterior has whirled around the city for months. ‘It’s too angular, there’s not enough colour,’ tour guide Eleni Premeti volunteered. ‘It looks like a huge spaceship has landed,’ resident Stella Ladi added.

But if the brief was to create a 21st century edifice in which to celebrate ancient Greece, it’s job done. Inside, it is a temple of UV-ray-reflecting glass and white marble; there are three floors that house some 4,000 artefacts.

The ground floor is designed to ape walking up to the Acropolis, with a gentle incline flanked by clay exhibits: tableware, cooking pots and toys. Visitors follow a timeline that begins with the Archaic Gallery, a light, airy first-floor space where relics are interspersed among a forest of towering columns. Chariot horses from 570 BC, marble statues of young women from 530 BC and Moscophoros, the calf-bearer from 570 BC, are part of a treasure trove of exhibits, many previously unseen.

The third floor houses the Classical period in the Parthenon Gallery. The setting is suitably spellbinding with floor-to-ceiling windows and jaw-dropping views.

In 1801, when Lord Elgin bought 247ft of the 524ft Parthenon frieze –the marbles – from Greece under Ottoman rule, he triggered an ownership dispute that, more than 200 years on, shows no sign of abating.

Until now, the strongest argument for keeping them at the British Museum has revolved around a dearth of appropriate venues in Athens.

The dedication of this new state-of-the-art Acropolis Museum demolishes that excuse,’ Greek Minister of Culture Antonis Samaras said at the opening Press conference. ‘The abduction of these sculptures is not only an injustice to us Greeks but to everyone in the world, because they were made to be seen in sequence.’

He’s right, too. The frieze tells the tale of the Great Panathenaea – ancient Athens’ most celebrated festival – and depicts 360 human and divine figures and more than 250 animals. Replicas replace the ‘exiled’ marbles, and for the visitor it’s hard not to feel just a tad unfulfilled. It’s like going to the Sistine Chapel and finding someone has rubbed out the Hand of God.

Of what is here (and don’t get me wrong, it’s absolutely beguiling), the mastery is in the detail. The faces of Poseidon, Apollo, Artemis and other deities are framed by delicately carved curls of hair and flowing robes that remain a marvel to behold.

Ancient Greece isn’t an easy subject to digest, particularly with limited time, and this is where the museum excels. The treasures tell the story: presentation is unfussy and explanations are concise and simple. Dip in as much or as little as you choose.

Throughout the building, there are glass panels that reveal excavations of the ancient dwellings below. It’s a stomach-flipping few footsteps, particularly when you peer down from the top floor. This novelty is the only nod to a younger audience in an attraction that is decidedly grown-up. Visiting families have been largely ignored and a stomp up to the Acropolis itself is likely to prove more inspiring for anyone under 14.

On the global cultural landscape, the New Acropolis Museum is as important as the Louvre, Rome’s Capitoline Museums and the British Museum it tussles with. Short of an intervention by a Greek god, this giant ancient jigsaw puzzle doesn’t look like being solved soon, but that shouldn’t dissuade you from visiting what is one of the world’s best new museums.

Travel Facts

Visit www.theacropolismuseum.gr. More information on Athens at www.breathtakingathens.com. Aegean Airlines (www.aegeanair.com, 0871 200 0040) flies to Athens from Stansted from £69.

Jo Tweedy stayed at the Divani Palace Acropolis, where rooms start from €130 per night, visit www.divanis.com/acropolis

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1 Comment »

  1. Stavros said,

    07.15.09 at 8:52 am

    well sure is the place for the marbles

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